Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ferdinand Porsche dies at 76

One of the rarest creatures in industrial history is the accomplished rich kid.  For example, Henry Ford's son Edsel was never trusted to do anything right (according to his father) so he found himself surrounded by company loyalists who saw to it that he couldn't do too much damage.

Porsche Museum Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen
But then there is Ferdinand "Butzi" Porsche—son of the auto giant Ferry Porsche.  As a young man he designed an automobile called the 911 in 1959, that went into production in 1963, and is still sold at your neighborhood Porsche dealership.  The cheapest 2012 will set you back $82k, but has 350 horsepower, goes 179 mph, and can accelerate from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds.  Virtually none of the 911 owners will ever even approach those speeds but just knowing that sort of performance is available seems to help many men through a nasty mid-life crises.

Now it is very likely that not one part from a 1963 911 would fit anywhere in a 2012 model.  Yet the basic design elements are so remarkably similar that both are instantly recognized as 911s by any sports car aficionado on the planet.  Butzi penned a great car—the Schwabians who actually built it over the years did the rest.

In 1970, I found myself at the plant gates of the Porschewerk in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen hoping to see how the legendary 911 got screwed together.  No problem, I was informed, tours start every hour.  Tour guides are enthusiasts first—mine was from Sweden and spoke flawless English.  No question was too complex.  We saw everything from the stamping shops to the trim line.

1970 911
As the tour neared the end, several in our group left us.  They were the guys taking deliveries and climbed into their new cars for a shake-down cruise riding alongside a factory driver.  The rest of us went on to see the engine shops and when we came out, the test riders were returning.  The drivers were very methodical and businesslike with their clip boards—they probably did this 12 times a day.  The new owners, on the other hand, looked like they had ODed on adrenaline and one was white as a sheet.  It's one thing to want to own a very fast car—it's quite another to ride one at speed driven by someone who knows what he is doing.

I had been on automobile factory tours before.  I saw a Ford plant in St. Paul when I was in sixth grade that impressed me greatly.  I was especially wowed that two door sedans, station wagons, and much in between in a dozen colors came down from the second floor to mate with various chassis that sported small inline 6-cylinder engines all the way to monster V-8s—and these nearly infinite permutations all seemed to have someone that wanted one in just that unique way.

But Porsche was different.  The workpace wasn't SO frenetic and nearly all the workers had an open bottle of beer near their workstations.  They were quite aware we were watching them and actually seemed to enjoy the attention.  And I am certain the test drivers enjoyed scaring the hell out of the orthodontists from southern California who paid extra to have their 911S painted purple.  I thought a great deal about those Porsche factory workers when I first read Veblen's The Instinct of Workmanship because I had seen that instinct alive and well in an industrial setting.

Getting injected with a major dose of auto lust at 21 can be a dangerous thing—especially when that car stays in production your whole life.  But I have gotten over it.  A few years back, I sat in a 911 at the auto show and realized the lust had gone—my LS is PLENTY fast and it doesn't give me claustrophobia.  Even so, I still turn and look whenever a 911 goes by and the sound of one of those air-cooled flat sixes could still probably wake me from a deep sleep.  Great cars are magic that way.

One more thing.  As our tour guide pointed out, it's pronounced Pore-sha.  Two syllables.  I still wince when I hear people get it wrong.

Ferdinand Porsche, legendary 911 sports car creator, dies at 76

05 April, 2012

Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, the man responsible for creating one of the world's most iconic cars, has died in Germany.

A statement from the German company confirmed Professor Porsche, grandson of company founder Ferdinand Porsche, had passed away in Salzburg.

The designer, nicknamed Butzi, joined the family company in 1956 where he worked in the technical design department.

In 1962 he was made the manager of the Porsche design studios and the following year he showed off the Porsche 901, which later became the world-famous 911. The sportscar, which had a rear-mounted engine, could accelerate from 0-100kmh in 9.1 seconds and reach a top speed of 210kmh.

Professor Porsche worked at the company until 1972, when it went public, and started the Porsche Design Group, which created a variety of high quality products from kitchens to mobile phones.

Despite being nearly 50 years old, the 911's design is still unmistakable from the original model. Porsche unveiled the seventh generation 911 last year. more
The 1970 911 owned by serious Porschephile Steve McQueen


  1. RIP Ferdinand Alexander Porsche you will always be remembered. You left The World a legacy of well-designed cars and sleek products. Thank you!

  2. Jim Marshall founder of Marshall Amps (the first Marshall guitar amplifiers were a development of Leo Fender´s amp designs) died thursday. Another great producer. Rock music and popular western culture wouldn´t have been the same without him.

  3. Jim Marshall founder of Marshall Amps (the first Marshall guitar amplifiers were a development of Leo Fender´s amp designs) died thursday. Another great producer. Rock music and popular western culture wouldn´t have been the same without him.

  4. Yes. Mr. Marshall certainly changed music. If the lives of the Producers are neglected, the lives of the tool-makers are even MORE obscure. And that is what Marshall was—a tool-maker who allowed Hendrix (and a thousand others) to be heard. In my mind, he is in the same club as Stradivarius and Silbermann the organ-builder. Before there is music, there are the guys who make it possible.

  5. I really like it when people get together and share views.
    Great blog, stick with it!
    My web site :: stocks